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Turn of the Century Posters

Over 1,000 American and European posters printed from 1893 through the first years of the 20th-century. The collection represents the inception and heyday of magazine, book, and newspaper posters of the last decade of the 19th-century, and well into the 20th-century.

Collection Contents  |  Related Subjects

Edward Penfield (1866-1925). Harper's February. Digital ID: 1131252 Edward Penfield (1866-1925). Harper's February. Digital ID: 1131252

Collection History

Many of the posters held by the Art and Architecture Collection were the gift of Anna Palmer (Mrs. Henry) Draper, who was, until her death in 1914, an important donor and supporter of the Library. The sources for much of the rest of the collection are unclear, although identification on a number of posters points to the collection of Theodore J. Taylor as their source. The total number of posters is more than 1,200; over time the entire holding will appear in Digital Gallery. In the decades of the 1930s and 40s, Library staff mounted the posters on card stock and bound them into large volumes, alphabetically by artist.

Background

The advent of the art poster in America is traceable to the publication of Edward Penfield's poster advertising the March 1893 issue of Harper's. Unlike earlier advertising posters, Penfield's work presented an implied graphic narrative to which text was secondary. In this way, and subsequently, in the hands of major artists such as Penfield, Will Bradley and Ethel Reed, the poster moved from the realm of commercial art to an elevated, artistic position.

As a genre, posters very rapidly became the objective of aggressive collectors. As early as 1895, posters began appearing in catalogs of exhibitions and collections. As collectors increasingly sought contemporary publishing posters as discrete objects, they became more desirable than the publication they were advertising. As a result, a shift developed in the industry toward well-designed, illustrated covers of magazines and dust jackets for books; at the same time, newspaper illustration advanced. By the end of the 1890s, the art poster had helped pave the way to a rapidly developing advertising industry that reverberates on Madison Avenue yet today.

Related Resources

The American Poster (1967).

Keay, Carolyn. American Posters from the Turn of the Century (1975).

Margolin, Victor. American Poster Renaissance (1975).

Metropolitan Museum of Art. American Art Posters of the 1890s in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, including the Leonard A. Lauder Collection (1987).

Library Division(s)

NYPL Digital Gallery provides free and open access to over 800,000 images digitized from primary sources and printed rarities in the vast collections of The New York Public Library, including drawings, illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints and photographs, illustrated books, printed ephemera, and more.